Morocco have been the surprise packet of the 2022 FIFA World Cup so far.
The African nation topped a group containing Belgium and Croatia which saw the former sent packing from Qatar.
Morocco’s current side isn’t short on quality players with PSG’s Achraf Hakimi looming as one of their brightest stars.
The right-back, however, could well have been playing for Spain at this World Cup instead of Morocco.
MORE: How will Morocco lineup against Spain?
What nationality is Hakimi?
Hakimi was born and raised in Spain to Moroccan parents making him eligible to play for both countries.
Nearly 900,000 Moroccans currently live in Spain with the two countries only separated by the strait of Gibraltar.
A 24-year-old Hakimi currently lives in France where he plays club football for PSG.
Why did Hakimi turn down Spain?
Hakimi grew up in Spain and came through Real Madrid’s academy as a youngster, ultimately making his La Liga debut for them in 2017.
His development caught the eye of Spain’s youth national teams and they tried to call him up but Hakimi’s allegiance was always with Morocco.
“Yes, there were moments in youth. There were contacts, I went to the Spanish national team also to try,” Hakimi told Marca ahead of the 2022 World Cup Round of 16.
“I was in Las Rozas for a couple of days and I saw that it was not the right place for me, I did not feel at home.
“It was not for anything in particular, but for what I felt, because it was not what I had at home, which is the Arab culture, being Moroccan. I wanted to be here.”
Hakimi represented Morocco at various youth levels and made his senior debut for them in October 2016.
So proud of this team. Let’s go for more!🇲🇦🦁 pic.twitter.com/K2eRVsNwbw
— Achraf Hakimi (@AchrafHakimi) November 23, 2022
Hakimi Morocco record
At the age of just 24, Hakimi has already made 57 appearances for Morocco’s senior team.
He is on track to break the appearance record of 115 currently held by Noureddine Naybet.
*Stats correct as of December 5, 2022.
Hakimi’s FIFA ban at Real Madrid
Hakimi’s Moroccan roots at one stage saw him banned by FIFA while he was playing in Spain for Real Madrid.
In September 2016, Hakimi was briefly barred from competing as FIFA investigated whether Real Madrid had illegally signed underage players from overseas.
Hakimi’s ban only lasted a few weeks with both the club and his parents able to prove he was born and raised in Spain.
“Nobody understood the decision of FIFA. Real Madrid and his family gave all the papers required showing he was born in a hospital in Madrid, that he studied here, that he spent all his life growing up here,” Moroccan Football Federation agent Rabie Takassa said in an interview in 2017.
“I think FIFA was only checking rare names from immigrants more than where the boy was born, which is what happened with him — they saw a Moroccan name and he was punished without deserving it.”